As summer approaches, losing weight is inevitably top of mind for most of us. So we intensify our workout routines and promise to follow a healthy food plan. Though there's more to it than that — you may not realize you're missing one crucial element: Your personal eating style.
As a behavioral health specialist, I've learned that the key to successful and sustainable weight loss is understanding your personal eating habits. Once you identify your habits, you can take steps to maintain the healthy ones, and change the ones that are weighing you down.
Weight loss is not necessarily only dependent on WHAT we eat, but WHY we eat it. This truth can make all the difference in our quest to get (and stay) in shape. We don’t fail on our diets — diets fail us. Lasting change is about being mindful of behavior and figuring out how to change that behavior for good.
Perhaps you identify with one or several of these six styles of eating:
1. Emotional eater
If you’re an emotional eater, you celebrate with food when you’re happy and you use food as a crutch when you’re upset.
The issue lies in your inability to distinguish between the two emotions, all while using food as a coping mechanism. There’s nothing food can actually do to solve the problem, so it just creates a new one.
To combat this habit, make a list of some “non-food” ways to treat yourself to either celebrate or elevate your mood. Activities such as a quick manicure, a phone call with a friend, or a leisurely walk in the sunshine can go a long way.
2. Habitual eater
Before you give up and give in to just living as a food vacuum, know that this type of eater will often indulge in junk food under the “just this once” excuse. If you’re not careful, “just this once” becomes a part of your daily routine.
Avoid this habit by journaling and keeping an eye on your narrative. Keeping track of your meals and snacks, no matter how guilty they make you feel, helps to keep you accountable so you can evaluate what you might eliminate from your plate.
3. External eater
Many of us overeat due to external cues: Birthday cake at the office, ads for savory foods, restaurants (and people) that push food at us and more. Shake off the “I see, therefore I feed” mentality. Being acutely aware of these external cues will help you stop and think “do I really want to eat this?” before overindulging.
4. Critical eater
The critical eater is either ON or OFF the rails at any given time. This eater possesses a wealth of rich knowledge about nutrition and health, but has a strong “all or nothing” way of thinking.
For instance, you might consume an entire box of “healthy” snacks and think “well, this day is a bust anyway, so whatever,” then drink green juice the next day to demonstrate calorie restriction as a way to counteract the overindulgence from the prior day.
For the critical eater, I suggest easing up on rigid food rules and developing more positive (and realistic) thinking. Think less about how self-destructive you feel when you’re “off the rails” and more about how your next eating choice will be a healthy one. You don’t have to write off your entire day just because you made one bad decision!
5. Sensual eater
The sensual eater appreciates food, relishing every bite. This eater is a bit of a thrill seeker, always on the lookout for meals more complex and intriguing than the last. The sensual eater does not hold back when it comes to trying exotic and decedent meals. Butter infused with uni smothered on sweet shrimp? Yes please and more!
Savoring and appreciating food is a good thing. In fact, many people find it tough to actually do this. This style of eating only becomes a problem if you are not mindful of portions, so stick to the “three fork-fuls” rule to keep portion size under control.
6. Energy eater
If you “treat” hunger by eating fast-acting carbohydrates like bread, crackers, granola bars, etc., you could be consuming far more calories than you notice or need. This is what I refer to as the energy eater. The energy eater is busy and active. However, this person inaccurately calculates the quantity of fuel they actually need to power through their day.
They consume healthy snacks, but too many. Carbs increase insulin production, which in turn creates hunger cues. Replace some of carbs with protein to control insulin. Instead of a large handful of whole-grain crackers, cut your portion in half and replace extra crackers with half a tablespoon of organic almond butter. The calorie count may be the same (or possibly more), but not all calories are created equal. Incorporating thoughtful protein portions into meals and snacks helps you stay satiated longer.
As with any behavioral change, the first step to successfully altering your habits is to acknowledge your actions. Identifying the mental and emotional components that led you to this behavior in the first place is the most effective way to combat the roadblocks that stand in the way of lasting change.
Brad Lamm is an interventionist, author, founder of Breathe Life Healing Centers in Los Angeles, which continues to transform the way addiction is treated in the U.S. In 2016, Brad relaunched intervention.com, the trusted domain for people seeking support for themselves or loved ones struggling with addiction.